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Wallizer is top gun in WVU's title shootout

March 26, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

Bryant Wallizer got swept up in his own version of March Madness.

The West Virginia University redshirt junior stood at the line. He shot. He scored. And the Mountaineers won the NCAA national championship.

No, it wasn't a dream. WVU lost in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, but Wallizer and the Mountaineers went all the way and pulled a mild upset to win the national rifle championship at Texas Christian University.

Wallizer helped anchor WVU's huge second-day comeback with bull's-eyes on 51 of his 60 shots in the air rifle half of the competition on March 14 to lead the Mountaineers' climb from sixth place to the title. WVU dethroned three-time defending champion Alaska Fairbanks.

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"It's an amazing feeling," said the 2005 graduate of Hancock. "It was kind of hard to swallow at the time, but now it has sunken in a bit. I'm glad we did as well as we could."

Wallizer, 21, took a step closer to his goal of one day making the U.S. Olympic team with his latest performance as he finished with an aggregate score of 691, finishing second in the air rifle, just six-tenths of a point behind Akron's Jenna Compton for the national title in the discipline.

"I just came in the next day and took the attitude that I was shooting for my best in my individual match," Wallizer said. "I went in thinking we were in sixth after the first day and we were out of it as a team."

The competition went to WVU's strength with the air rifle competition on the second day. The Mountaineers slid out of contention the first day, shooting poorly in the smallbore rifle discipline.

The smallbore rifle was the weakest of the two disciplines for WVU, but the Mountaineers underachieved in the March 13 match.

"Basically, we just shot poorly in the smallbore," Wallizer said. "We were pretty bad. We usually do much better in the smallbore."

Anything could have thrown WVU off. You could say that rifle shooting is truly for the faint of heart.

Competitors work on keeping their heart rates to a minimum in order to stay steady while shooting. Their target is no bigger than a quarter with a bull's-eye the size of the head of a pin from 50 meters away. Wallizer has built his diet around no caffeine and little sugar.

Smallbore and air rifle competitions each consist of 60 shots. The smallbore is broken into three 20 shot increments -- prone, kneeling and standing -- while all 60 air rifle shots are taken from the standing position.

Wallizer strives to excel while standing at that line.

"In high school, my coach told me that shooting matches are won and lost in the standing position," Wallizer said. "So I wanted to be the best I could from the standing position."

On March 14, WVU was the only one standing after its standing rounds.

The Mountaineers were in sixth with 2,290 points after the smallbore round, 22 points behind first-place Jacksonville State. On the second day, the Mountaineers excelled.

"It was pretty incredible," Wallizer said. "We were one of four teams that pretty much spent time in first place on the second day. It was amazing because all four of us finished in the top six of the competition."

In the end, the Mountaineers outlasted Kentucky by five points (4,643-4,638) to win WVU's 14th rifle national championship, the first since 1998.

For Wallizer, who transferred to WVU after spending a year at Murray State, the championship fulfills one of his goals along the way to his lifelong dream of becoming an Olympic shooter.

"The average age for most Olympians in the sport is the low to mid 30s," Wallizer said. "People are older in this sport, so I'm on track. I think I have a good shot to make the 2012 team. I finished 10th in the air trials for the 2008 team and I was pretty happy with that."

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